An article by Chris & Connie.
Our route uses a number of easy to hike cross country ski trails connected to the Nakiska Ski Resort, and takes one up to an old dilapidated fire lookout now surrounded completely by trees. Most of the way up is sans any sort of view, but all is not lost. At the end of the journey there is a break, an opening in the always present forest, which makes it well worth the effort. Enjoy looking at the valley below and mountains all around. Easy as pie.
The extensive trail network here is signed (maps or ski symbols) but given the many junctions it’d be easy to get turned around. Always be mindful of where you are. All the trails used have their own unique names, but collectively we’ll call them the Hummingbird Plume Lookout Trail. There are many starts to the adventure too – we began at the summer gate. It was open on our visit but unless the hill is running, it’d be best to stay outside or risked being locked in.
Head past the lodge complex, empty and shuttered our visit with this post-apocalypse type vibe about it. Soon after pass the “Olympic” lift. Look at all the runs coming down off Mt Allan above.
Turn gentle right and drop down the access road towards another lift in the distance. We went a little astray here and went up for a bit. Doh! Funny thing is, had we kept on this path, we’d have connected up with the route we planned to take anyway and shaved off some elevation gain to boot. Oh well. Just ignore our oopsie.
Just before the lift take the marked X-Country trail, soon after cross a downhill run (lots of ski hill “junk” scattered about here) and plunge into the forest. Right after, at a four way, turn hard left on the Skogan Pass trail. Head up, always at a moderate angle paralleling a small stream.
After a time, a maintenance road comes in from the left. This is the same path were on earlier that we aborted. Turn right. A snow dump took place the night before. Lower down it had melted but as we gain elevation it’s sticks and gets deeper as we go. No biggie. Winter has a way of hushing the forest and it’s dead quiet save for the crunching of snow underfoot. We see tracks from a Lynx along here.
Occasionally we catch a glimpse of the ski hill runs to the south and tops of mountains to the east peeking out above the forest, the dense endless viewless forest. Trust us though, it gets better at the end. Come to a marked junction (maintenance road heads left) and soon after yet another (Marmot Basin trail left) and continue north.
Cross a stream showing damage from the floods of 2013 and soon after leave the road behind at yet another a marked junction under some power lines. This section is the Sunburst Trail. It climbs a bit then sort of levels out. You’ve gained most of the elevation now. Still in the trees, come to one more junction and turn right. In no time come to the fire lookout and a picnic bench.
But it’s completely in the trees! Where are the views? Head east a bit and come to a scenic east facing overlook. The Kananaskis River and the highway can be seen below. Directly across is Wasootch Peak (or G8 Summit) and to its left, Wasootch Ridge, both of which we’ve been up. Low clouds prevented us from seeing their tops.
We take some time to soak up the panorama below us, and to enjoy some lunch and just goof off. Heading back, we examine the primitive lookout. It’s weather beaten and rotting but still fairly solid. It’s grounded against lighting strikes too.
It’s not exactly clear when it was built. Some people say the 1910s, but I have a hunch it’s a bit more modern, by a decade or two, given what we know of the general history of the area. When it was closed is also not known, but it must have been around the time more modern lookouts were established in the valley (1960s).
The inside is covered with graffiti and carvings – so and so was here on some date – you’ve seen it before – some of it fairly modern, some dating back much further. A few were supposedly scratched into the wood by POWs interned at a nearby camp during World War Two, while out on work detail.
The bump we’re on, Hummingbird Plume Hill, is a fairly low one. Usually fire lookouts are placed much higher up, so that’s it here seems a bit odd. How the place name came about is not known. For one, none of those birdies were seen our trip.
Retrace your steps on the return journey. On the way down, we spotted a fenced in compound in the trees a kilometre or so from the lookout. There is apparently a collapsed cabin nearby as well (as we found out afterwards). I’m guessing this was accommodations for the lookout keeper and a corral for his horse.
This Hummingbird Plume Lookout Trail, based on trip reports found online, seems far more popular with skiers than it does with hikers. We saw a few people on foot lower down, and evidence of a couple mountain bikers having passed in the fresh snow, but most of the time we were alone. We could see we were the first to visit the lookout this day.
While this trail is pretty mundane most of the time, the cherry on top, the view at the end, makes it a rewarding objective. Many people also take in scenic Troll Falls, accessed via one of those offshoot trails lower down, in conjunction with this route. Maybe we’ll visit it another day.
Date of adventure: October, 2015.
Location: Nakiska Ski Hill, Kananaskis AB.
Distance: 12km normal route (13km account our mistake).
Height gain maximum: 400m.
Height gain cumulative: 410m (plus an extra 40m due to our oopsie).
NOTE: all heights and distances are approximate.
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.